November 23, 2005 by

Alfred Anderson


Categories: Military

Alfred Anderson was only 18 years old on Dec. 25, 1914, when the “eerie sound of silence” fell along the 500-mile Western Front. On that day, British and German troops stopped shooting each other long enough to share a moment of peace.
Anderson, who served with Britain’s 5th Battalion – The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), would eventually become the last known surviving Allied veteran to have experienced the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” of World War I. The unauthorized ceasefire spread along the Western Front as enemy troops shook hands, swapped cigarettes and food, sang Christmas carols and even played games with each other.
In some places, the impromptu truce lasted for several weeks, and actually alarmed army commanders who feared the fraternization between the troops would interfere with the need to resume fighting. For Anderson, however, peace lasted only a few hours.
“All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices,” he once said. “But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas,’ even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.”
The yule armistice was not repeated during the remaining years of the war, a global conflict that left 31 million people dead, wounded or missing.
Anderson was born June 25, 1896, in Dundee, Scotland. He and many of his classmates enlisted in the Territorial Army in 1912 and were among the first British soldiers to serve in France during the Great War. Anderson reached the rank of sergeant, and briefly served as the valet to Capt. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother of Queen Elizabeth.
He continued to serve until 1916 when a shell exploded, killing several of his friends and seriously wounding him in the back of the neck. Anderson lay in his trench all day, and only received medical attention after darkness fell. The injury ended his active service, but he still helped the Allies by working as an infantry instructor.
Anderson aided the Home Guard during World War II and also ran his family’s building and joinery business. In 1998, he was awarded the Legion of Honor from the French government. Anderson’s life was chronicled in the 2002 biography, “A Life in Three Centuries,” and a bust of his visage is on display at the public library in Alyth, Scotland.
Anderson died in his sleep on Nov. 21 at the age of 109. His wife, Susan Iddison Anderson, died in 1979 at the age of 83. Alfred is survived by four children, 10 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

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